| Out of Step |

Out of Step: Chapter 9

It still shook me to see Babby sitting and being taken care of, instead of cooking or sitting at her computer or cleaning out the attic, all things she normally was very busy with



hold a lock of Atara’s thick, dark hair in my hand and try to tug the brush gently through, like Fraidy has just shown us. “Ow! Ow!” Atara yelps, jerking her head away.


Fraidy comes hurrying over — your student screaming in pain will have that effect — and shows me once more how to start at the bottom and make my way carefully up to the root so I don’t pull out any hairs. I watch her as she works; she’s so sure of herself, so confident. I wonder what that must feel like, to do something well, and to know, to really know, that you’re better at it than anyone else in the room.

I’m a good dancer, yes, but I can’t help comparing myself to the other girls every chance I get.

I’m mortified that Fraidy needed to show me the technique again, but I just thank her and turn back to Atara. “Sorry,” I say.

“S’fine,” she says, pouting. “Try again.”

Week one of the course was proving to be pretty taxing, but a lot of fun. The other students ranged in ages from 14 — our age — to mid-twenties. Which is actually really cool. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a class with people so much older than me. It’s interesting to watch them, to see that most of them aren’t that much different from the 14 year olds, there’s just something… calmer about them. They’re all smiling and laughing a lot, while we all just kind of look stressed out. You know, in a good way.

“So how was Shabbos at your grandparents?”

I think about Atara’s question as I run the brush — smoothly this time — through her hair. Shabbos was… not as bad as I thought it would be. They had put a large hospital bed in the living room, and it looked as out of place as a spaceship in Macy’s Home Goods department. But Babby seemed in fine spirits, Zeidy was as loud and happy as ever, although he kept looking at Babby as though she was about to disappear. And I had a great time with Goldie and Effie and Benny. In that order.

But it was a bit boring. And it still shook me to see Babby sitting and being taken care of, instead of cooking or sitting at her computer or cleaning out the attic, all things she normally was very busy with.

It was good….” I say. “Kind of slow, if that makes sense. Like we were in a time warp or something.”

Atara wrinkles her nose. “Um, okay?”

I suddenly feel self-conscious. Atara’s family is so young and normal. “Anyway, your hair is looking gooood.”

“All you did was brush it.”

“I know.”

We crack up, Fraidy comes over to inspect my handiwork and gives me a high five, then starts lecturing about proper wrist movement while using hot tools.


I come home to find my house in full Sunday mode. Daddy is learning in his study, Ma is grading papers in a robe and glasses, Naftoli and the younger boys are scarfing down bowls of mac and cheese, and I suddenly realize I’m starving.

I also realize that the last thing in the world I want right now is mac and cheese, and that I really wish everyone else in the house would just disappear so I can talk to Mommy in peace. Sigh.

“Hi, sweetie,” Ma says, glancing in my direction.



I’m about to say, “No thank you,” like a normal person, but instead the words, “Uch, gross,” find their way out of my throat.

Everyone freezes. Naftoli literally has a noodle sticking out of his mouth.

“Sorry,” I mumble. “Tired. Gonna take a nap.”

I turn on my heel, hoist my bag of hair supplies onto my shoulder, and head for the stairs, stomach grumbling.


“I have no idea why I snapped at everyone.”

I’m lying on Atara’s rug, one leg extended over my head. “Pointe and flex, pointe and flex.”

Atara tsks sympathetically.

“And then I was literally starving for the rest of the day. You know what it was?” I say, sitting up suddenly.

Atara snaps a piece of gum. “What?” she asks, leafing through her Chumash notes. 

“It was Naftoli. He’s making me so nervous, just home all day, loafing around, eating with the little kids. I mean, the whole situation is totally unfair. And meanwhile, the real cheater is in yeshivah, living a normal yeshivah-bochur life, while he’s just out of routine. I think it gets me down.”

Atara purses her lips. “That’s really not normal.”

I stretch upward, reaching, reaching, like Shayna taught me. Imagine your arms are endless, are weightless. Reach upward, like you’re about to take flight.

Atara watches me through hooded eyes, and suddenly, surprisingly, I’m self-conscious.

I drop my arms like they’re filled with lead and let out a rush of air.

“It’s just not fair, you know?”

Atara looks down. “Yeah,” she says hoarsely. “I do.”

And I have a weird feeling she’s not talking about Naftoli anymore.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 785)

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